Up to this point, poet and Penn State professor Julia Spicher Kasdorf considered herself a “garden variety lyrical poet.”
But last year, during a yearlong sabbatical, the Bellefonte resident embarked on a different literary endeavor: a journalistic project to examine the areas affected by the natural gas fracking boom. She spent time in the northern Pennsylvania counties of Tioga and Lycoming and the southwestern counties of Westmoreland and Fayette.
“I was interested in understanding what it’s like living in a gas development area,” said Kasdorf, a professor of English and women’s studies. “I talked to all kinds of people, really anyone willing to sit down with me and my notebook.”
From those stories came what she calls “documentary poetry.” She’ll draw on the poems that evolved from the interviews for her “Poems From the Fracking Fields” reading at 7:30 p.m. Friday as part of the Bellefonte Art Museum’s last Out Loud poetry, prose and performance series.
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The poems reflect the conversations she had as well as her own voice, she said. While some are in other voices and some are impressionistic, they are snapshots of the lives she encountered in these gas production areas.
Kasdorf said she had to think long and hard about why herself, why this project and what’s at stake.
“I finally realized I have really deep roots in Pennsylvania,” she said. “Because I grew up in western Pennsylvania at the tail end of the coal industry, I saw strip mining and saw the ravages of coal in the west.
“This sort of stuff affects me and makes me want to spend a lot of time and thought on it.”
Returning to Fayette County, she said, she saw the change wasn’t as dramatic as other areas like Lycoming. She encountered wells in some areas, she said, but mostly a lot of new pipeline.
Kasdorf said many people have had different experiences with the gas industry, and she wanted to capture that range as well. Some are pleased with the industry, while some are not seeing any of the benefits.
“That’s what makes it so interesting, so complex and so emotionally loaded,” she said.